Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Enacting “Electronic Qur’ans”: Tradition Without a Precedent

On the Material Religions blog, Natalia Suit:
describes instances in Egypt in which the Qur'ān is enacted through the daily routines of worship and piety known as the etiquette of the muṣḥaf. These practices, she argues, are inseparably entangled with technology. A book made of paper is not the same as the Qur'ānic text on the screen of a phone. A text visible on the page does not necessarily appear in the same way as its digitized version under a plastic cover. When the medium of the message changes, the etiquette of the muṣḥaf changes as well, and practices are redefined to accommodate this new and unprecedented materiality of the text.
This essay will be of particular interest for the discussion of how digitization is affecting the ritualization of iconic texts. Suit quotes an anecdote that exempts digital texts from purity concerns by comparing computer or phone memory with human memory. This reproduces a very old tendency to compare the contents of books with the minds of human beings: both books and people have physical exteriors and immaterial interiors that, according to very many religious traditions, are not confined to their particular physical containers. Digitization drives this analogy even further into the heavens--or, at least, "the cloud".